ACCEPTANCE, ACCLIMATION & ADVOCACY
COMMUNITY STORIES | 5.12.18 | By Bridget Gottdank
Growing up just a short drive outside of Philadelphia, being a Philadelphia Eagles fan is imperative right? Okay… So, I may not be a dedicated football fan, but I am 100% devoted to the free coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts the day after an Eagle’s win. This brings me to the day, which unknowingly, changed the person that I was and the life that I had lived, forever.
On October 24, 2016 I took advantage of that free coffee opportunity. While stopped at a red light, with Dunkin’ Donuts in near view, I was rear-ended by a distracted driver. As I was hit at an accelerated speed, my brakes were unable to stop my car from slamming into the SUV in front of me. This created a bumper car-like situation, and I was the unlucky monkey in the middle.
The night of the accident, I had what I thought were just common aches and headaches from minor car accident whiplash. After two days of unbearable pain in my head, literally describing it to my doctor as “feeling as if my head was going to explode,” I was diagnosed with a mild concussion. I followed the “concussion protocol” (no screens, lots of rest) and was told that this injury may last one to two weeks. Two weeks then turned into two months of rarely leaving my house and hiding under blankets in quiet rooms to escape from any noises or lights that caused pain. I tried everything to pass the time as I was awaiting relief…Adult coloring books, listening to podcasts, wearing sunglasses indoor at all times and listening to movies with my eyes closed. In December of 2017, I entered the outpatient Neuro Center at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital in Malvern, Pennsylvania. To address my cognitive, speech, vestibular, and physical degradations from the accident, I spent five months in continuous daily therapy appointments. In May 2017, I finally felt a sense of purpose and progress again. I was discharged from all therapies and began working a part-time job.
So I’m all healed now, right? That’s what many people don’t understand about brain injuries – something that I, too, misunderstood until I experienced one myself. No one brain is the same. How come some people fully recover, but I deal with 20+ symptoms everyday? Why was my outcome different? When will these overwhelming symptoms go away…Will they ever?
This injury alters who you are, as you knew, completely – physically, cognitively, and emotionally. There’s the crippling social anxiety while stumbling and forgetting words in conversation, the unremitting feelings of vulnerability while driving, and the depression while mourning the loss of your former self. I still fight the negative thoughts everyday, but I have found that focusing on the positive has helped put my mind at ease.
We have these socially constructed concepts of normality and time frames of how life should progress. When something occurs that forces alterations in our time frame, we become scared and uncertain of the future.
I may be graduating later from college, but this injury helped me gain a greater appreciation for learning and the ability to retain new information. I didn’t have the classic 21st birthday with the opportunity to show a bouncer my ID for the first time, but on that night I realized how fortunate I am to have my family as I was engulfed in love by them while spending the night doing something that didn’t heighten my chronic pain.
At first, I went to places that gave me pain or followed through with plans although I was having a “bad head day” because I felt guilty cancelling. One day I was told, “if it makes your head hurt, then why are you doing it? If those people love you, they will understand.” From then on out, I decided to stop doing what brought me additional pain. This not only decreased symptom flares, but also allowed me to discover who truly cares for my health and recovery from who is just adding onto the pain. I am unclear of what my future holds, but what I do know is that I will accept these new challenges as they come and strive to push through all that I am faced.
If you are reading this story and currently have a traumatic brain injury, please remember to be patient and kind to your brain. You will get there; your brain will get there. We need not expect perfection from such an intricate organ.
I’ve come to learn that it’s important to view these new boundaries as challenges to overcome rather than restrictions. Replace: I can’t do this anymore; with: how can I do this modified, or what can I do instead? If you were previously an avid runner, but running now enhances dizziness and headaches, slowly incorporate other forms of exercise including stationary cycling or yoga. If you’re a music lover and attend concerts regularly, stand towards the back, put those earplugs in and dance with your sunglasses on. We were given a second shot at a new life, let’s go out there live it the best we can.
Acceptance and acclimation are difficult without the integral aspect of advocacy. Anyone with a TBI has heard the words, “That concussion didn’t go away yet?”, “your accident wasn’t that bad and you weren’t in a coma…Are you really still having problems?” and the best, “but you look fine”. Those words alone are why we need to educate those around us on the long lasting affects of a TBI. While job searching in May 2017, I came across a “receptionist needed” ad for a local massage and yoga studio. I encountered countless people fighting chronic illness, including several with a TBI, while working as a receptionist. I later transitioned into a marketing position. After hearing about LoveYourBrain, I knew that the yoga program would be a worthwhile resource to our community. This April, Blue Buddha Healing Arts hosted their first LYB Yoga for the TBI Community series as a LYB affiliate studio. By creating this partnership with LYB, knowledge on the importance of TBI spread through therapists, yoga instructors, clients, local organizations, community members, health care offices, and social media followers. Our local TBI community now has an added resource to aid in their healing.
If I were granted three wishes from a genie I would decline two of the wishes if that meant that the first wish would return me back to full health, but through this journey of rediscovery I am proud of who I have become and the greater patience and understanding in which I developed. Next time someone asks about you, don’t hesitate to share your story. Just by sharing your story of resilience, you have done a enormous part in making this invisible illness, more visible. This spread of awareness creates community. With community comes support. Through support, we are given a helpful hand in accepting, acclimating, and most importantly, enjoying this new life.
"Going through things you’d never thought you’d go through, will only take you places you never thought you’d get to." – Morgan Harper Nicholas